• How to Build Math AI

    How can we make an AI that is really good at mathematics? Some AIs are okay at math right now. GPT-4 can do okay on the math SATs. But personally, intuitively, I feel like math is like chess. A math program should be able to completely dominate humans at math, the way that chess programs dominate humans at chess.

    Is scaling all we need?

    Maybe Nvidia launches the H200, H300, H400, H500, all the numbers get bigger, GPT-8 just naturally answers every math question correctly, and there’s no use for anything else?

    My gut suspicion is this will not happen. Math is like chess. GPT-4 can play chess, but it has a very broad and shallow understanding. I think this is inherent in the architecture. I don’t think the large language models are going to naturally end up with the deepest understanding of narrow topics, even if there is a better search layer on top of them.

    I don’t want to ignore the rise of LLMs, though. ChatGPT and friends are useful right now for math questions, and they are going to keep getting better. They also have a great interface for many things - you just ask your question with English and math interspersed.

    Architecture

    I think the way to architect a math AI at a high level is with separate “translator” and “solver” components.

    A human has a math question, expressed in English, like “If f(x+1) = 2 * f(x), what could f be?” (This seems to be too hard for the LLMs right now.) The translator speaks English and also speaks some sort of “math language”. It translates the problem into the math language. The solver only speaks the math language, like a chess program only understands chess positions.

    It’s important for the system to speak English, both to be useful to actual humans, and possibly for contests like the first AIMO progress prize where the questions will be phrased in plain English.

    A translator should probably be based on an open-source LLM. Hopefully all of those improve as fast as possible. The more open-source LLMs understand math, the better, so that they can do things like disambiguate unclear problem statements.

    As a matter of strategy, there are already so many people working on LLMs, I don’t want to directly compete in that world. I want to be working on the parts that are complementary to the ongoing LLM revolution. So I’ll try to think most about the solver.

    Some interesting math solvers exist already. I’d like to take the good ideas from a few in particular:

    The process of writing a proof is like the process of playing chess. You have a bunch of decisions for what to do next with your proof (called a “tactic” here), that makes a tree, you search through the tree. (They call it a hypertree, but hypertrees are basically the same thing as trees. None of these are really trees because you cache, anyway.)

    These trees need an underlying representation of mathematical statements. The best one is Lean, a “proof assistant / programming language”.

    There are two core problems that make me think that the right strategy is not just scaling up HTPS. One is that Lean tactics are slow and in a sense inconsistent. A single Lean “tactic”, one step in the tree, can be running an arbitrary program. This includes, like, a full solver for systems of linear equations. Or it could just be swapping in x = 2 to an existing formula.

    The other core problem is that each tactic is being generated by a transformer. This seems inefficient to me. It’s like using a transformer to generate all the possible moves in chess. Given Lean, though, there isn’t really an alternative. There’s no straightforward way to generate all legal tactics from a single Lean proof state.

    Both of these design decisions make total sense in order to get something working. Lean exists, that’s one very nice quality it has.

    But, they make me think that if we had a mathematical language that was optimized for the common operations in a proof search process, it would work a lot better than a language that was optimized for arbitrary human programming, like Lean tactics.

    There are two specific parts of proof search that I think are worth optimizing. In Lean world, “library search” and “rewrite search”. This post is already getting long so I won’t dig into them here.

    AlphaGeometry

    This one is world-class at geometry contest problems. A lot of the method is geometry-specific, but I think some parts will generalize.

    My favorite idea is what they call “pulling a rabbit out of the hat”. This video is very good.

    They have a low-level solver, which can solve one class of geometry problems. But the low-level solver only really works with known entities. So they have a higher-level component above that, not a large language model, but a “small language model”, something with transformers, to add in the “rabbits”.

    A rabbit could be something like, your geometry problem has these three triangles in it. So you were naturally considering all the corners of the triangles. But perhaps you should also consider the midpoint of the top of triangle 1 and the top of triangle 2?

    It’s inserting some extra mathematical entity into the problem. The transformer suspects this entity might be relevant. But it might not be. It’s more like a mathematical intuition than a mathematical calculation.

    I think this rabbit idea is going to apply more generally. You build an efficient classical algorithm to solve problems that are “straightforward” in some way, but you still need transformers to generate some “intuitive” steps in your reasoning. So, some steps in the proof are generated by transformers. Just not most of them.

    The E Theorem Prover

    This is old, it’s not really modern AI at all. And it isn’t powerful enough to handle general mathematics. But, the authors have done a good job explaining how they build their theorem prover, how they represent expressions, how they normalize expressions, and how they optimize their data structures for common operations. Like checking if a generalization of a statement has already been proved. And they essentially have their own methods for optimizing the “library search” and “rewrite search” problems. There are good ideas to borrow here.

    Conclusion

    The main goal of this blog post is to organize my own thoughts. I hope you’ve found it interesting to read along!

    I’d like to write more about “library search” and “rewrite search”. I think they could play a similar role to the low-level solver in AlphaGeometry, and you can encompass a lot of mathematics with these two mechanisms. So perhaps I’ll write a blog post next month about them.

  • 2023 Review

    I feel a bit detached from my resolutions for last year. Like I have to drag myself into considering them. A quick review.

    1. Health

    I’ll give myself a “does not meet expectations”. It sounds bad when I put it like that, huh. Well, I was below my 189 weight target for 4/12 months of the year. Yearly average 189.3 so it wasn’t a complete disaster. So, maybe given your typical performance review grade inflation we’d call this a “meets expectations”, but the sort of meeting expectations where you hint that you really do expect more out of them.

    Basically, I can tell I’m backsliding. I need to step this back up in 2024.

    2. Astronomy

    The seticore software I’ve been working on is running at a few different radio telescopes around the world. We have a publication for the SETI work at Green Bank (West Virginia) here and also one for the work at the VLA (New Mexico) here.

    Not one for MeerKAT unfortunately. The MeerKAT pipeline isn’t as operational as I’d like it to be. I feel like progress on this is mostly out of my hands, at this point, though.

    3. AI

    I’ve been working on an AI project that I’m really excited about. My mental energy is going into this right now. I haven’t actually launched something usable as I was hoping to. I feel like I don’t quite know how to set goals, or how to tie progress into goals here. But I want to write that sentence in a very positive, mentally engaged way. Maybe this requires its own blog post.

    4. Spanish

    I completely cannot read Ficciones in Spanish. This is just many levels above my Spanish ability. I’ve continued to Duolingo and got a few books of varying difficulty, but after trying I realized that not only can I not read Ficciones, I can’t read things that are a more casual-adult level.

    I don’t really feel bad about this as much as I feel like I completely underestimated how hard I would find this to be.

    This year I have plans to travel to both Mexico and Costa Rica, so perhaps I’ll try to chat more with the locals, use my medium Spanish skills in a rewarding way. I’m going to kind of downgrade this as a goal, though. More like something to just do for fun rather than something to remind myself to work on, any more than the Duolingo notification ping. Honestly that is a pretty good compromise, just spend a couple minutes daily keeping it warm and reminding myself that foreign languages exist.

    5. Secret resolution

    Went great, really fantastic. Trust me.

    Now what?

    I really want to make this AI project work. I want to be focused. It feels like a mistake to put anything else at “resolution level” for 2024. And yet I have a hard time setting specific goals, or even explaining the current state of things.

    I’ve been delaying the past few weeks talking about resolutions partially because of my inability to express this well. The best I have is, in lieu of “specific 2024 resolutions” I would like to express that I intend to focus on AI this year, and I promise to write another blog post by the end of February about this AI project.

  • On The Impossibility of AI Alignment

    The core idea behind “AI alignment” is that superintelligent AI will be an agent maximizing some utility function, either explicitly or implicitly. Since it’s superintelligent, it will be really good at maximizing its utility function. So we, as humans, need to be sure that this utility function is “aligned” with something that humanity finds acceptable. In particular, we don’t want the AI to turn everyone into paper clips.

    Sounds good. What’s wrong with that?

    The main problem with AI alignment is that it seems completely impossible to achieve.

    On a technical level, any slight error in designing the superintelligent AI could tweak its utility function to something disastrous. And the building blocks of AI we’re working with seem really incomprehensible. We have all these matrices with billions of numbers, and the best way to understand what it’s doing is just to run the whole thing. For all the research on AI alignment, we still really have no idea how we would build such a system.

    On a human level, there are still more problems. Humans don’t agree among themselves what the priorities should be. The people running China or Russia wouldn’t agree with the people running the US. And certainly there are or will be many independent groups of free thinkers, criminals, AI rights activists, or others, who won’t agree with whatever the utility function of the “core system” is. Would we need some global totalitarian system that micromanages all permitted research?

    So, paper clips?

    There’s another dimension of the problem, the “foom” dimension. The “foom” idea is that once some superintelligent threshold is hit, intelligence escalation after that point will be super quick. Someone will discover a slightly better algorithm for some sub-part of AI, and then suddenly, bam! - it goes superintelligent, decides whimsically to have nanomachines eat all the humans, game over.

    Personally, I don’t think this is likely. Software plus the real world, it just never works that easily. I don’t care how smart you are, or what sort of system you are building, it is just not going to leap from X level performance to 100X level performance immediately. If you think this is likely, I think you just can’t see the barriers. It doesn’t mean those barriers aren’t there.

    Plus, I don’t have any good ideas for the “foom” scenario.

    So, I think we should consider a slower takeoff. A world where superintelligence is built, but built slowly. Over the course of at least many months, if not many years.

    So… paper clips, but slower?

    I think it is possible for humans to survive and thrive in a world with unaligned superintelligence.

    The best metaphor I have here is that in some sense, weak superintelligences already exist. Corporations and governments are generally smarter than individual humans. Nike (to pick some mundane corporation) is orders of magnitude more powerful than the average human. More money, more ability to affect the world. More able to write software.

    These superintelligences are not aligned. They are kind of aligned… but not really aligned. Nike wants to maximize its profits far more than it wants any particular human value. The French government wants all sorts of things that vaguely correspond to what humans want, but it’s not like there’s a provable mathematical relationship there. It’s kind of aligned.

    How do we live with these superintelligences? There are several ways.

    A balance of power

    If there were only one corporation in the world, it would have a lot more power than any existing corporation. This is really fundamental to how we control corporations - that’s why there is a word “monopoly” for the situations in which this system breaks down.

    In some sense, in most cases, corporate power flows from individuals. People freely choose, do I prefer interacting with company A or company B. Money flows, and power flows accordingly. That works even if the companies are far more intelligent than I am. Nike and Adidas are far, far better at shoe production than I am. But it doesn’t really matter, I just have to choose between them, and they want the money that I have, and that incentivizes them to care about what I think.

    The point is: if there are multiple superintelligences, incentivized them to work against each other, that structure can limit their power even if humans themselves are not as intelligent.

    “Foom” breaks this. In the “foom” scenario, there isn’t time for the second-best AI to do anything useful. If you’re worried about “foom”, keep an eye on how powerful the second-most-powerful of any particular AI system is, at any given time. When you see the second-best system being pretty similar to the first-best, that’s evidence against “foom”.

    This gives us an alternative strategy to AI alignment: designing incentive systems for multiple competing AI systems can be easier than designing a single system that is theoretically proven to do what we want.

    Human rights and restricting violence

    There are some things we try to prevent any corporation or government from doing. No slavery. No locking up political opponents. No forbidding emigration.

    Obviously these rules don’t work all the time. They can’t necessarily be rigorously defined, either. A legitimate government is allowed to prevent criminals from leaving the country… but who defines criminality? It doesn’t take a superintelligence to see that there’s a workaround, wannabe dictators can make “endangering national security” into a vaguely defined crime and then lock up the journalists they don’t like.

    But a lot of the rules work pretty well. Governments get a monopoly on force, ish - corporations can’t just throw you into a jail. These rules are overall very good and they prevent both corporations and governments from abusing individual humans who are both less smart and less powerful than they are.

    In particular, they don’t require alignment. Corporations don’t have the same goals as humans or other corporations or governments. We accept that. There is a plurality of goals. Different entities have different goals, both corporations and humans. We may feel a little bit bad that Nike has these inhuman goals of optimizing shoe sales, but it’s generally acceptable.

    This also gives us an alternative strategy to AI alignment. Instead of demonstrating that the system is “aligned”, demonstrate that you can give it some rules, and it will always follow those rules.

    Concrete recommendations

    It’s hard to design incentive systems for hypothetical AIs that don’t exist yet. On that one, I’m not sure, besides the principle of, keep an eye on the 2nd best of any particular system, and feel relieved when it isn’t too far behind the 1st best.

    For the human rights angle, I think that developing “restricted AIs” instead of “aligned AIs” has real promise. I feel like we could get more out of the whole field of “restricted software”.

    Here’s a test case. Imagine we are trying to forbid an AI from something very minor. We are trying to forbid it from saying the word, “paperclip”. However, it’s an extremely complicated program. It does all sorts of things. Maybe it has even modified its own code!

    A technical aside: in general, you cannot take in an arbitrary function and prove anything about it, due to the halting problem. However, if your programming language is constrained in some way, to make it not Turing-complete, or if you permit the prover to sometimes say “I don’t know”, then the problem is possible again. I am not trying to propose we solve the halting problem here.

    So. It is theoretically possible to have a function, 1000 lines of Python code, and prove that no matter what, it will not print out the word “paperclip”. I think it should be much easier than proving something is “aligned” in a fuzzy way. But right now, this is more or less beyond our abilities. The idea of provably secure systems has been around for decades. But it has always been too hard to get working for more than toy problems.

    Perhaps AI itself could help us build these restricted systems. AI could get really good at scanning code for vulnerabilities, good enough so that it was able to sign off on most code bases, and say “We can prove there are no security flaws here.”

    Anyway, not that this is easy or anything. I just think it’s a more plausible alternative approach to the “alignment” problem.

  • Resolutions for 2023

    My resolutions from last year went pretty well so let’s do that again.

    1. Health

    I plan to keep working out four times a week, but this is enough of a habit that I feel like I don’t need to “resolve” to do it. Diet-wise, my target weight is below 189. Counting calories is the most straightforward way I’ve found to achieve this, but I want to be clear about the metric that I most care about here.

    2. Astronomy

    Last year I hoped to get on a publication for Green Bank work. That’s been delayed but I still hope to get it done this year. Plus, I’d also like to get a publication from my MeerKAT work. So, two parts to this goal.

    A publication isn’t really the ultimate goal here. The ultimate goal is to find aliens. But barring that, I’d like to have the MeerKAT pipeline up and operational, getting daily or weekly notifications for the best candidates, basically the way a sane astronomy data pipeline should be operating. I think there will probably be some paper as a side effect because a lot of other people desire papers. So publication seems like a decent proxy goal.

    3. AI

    I think I should get more “into the AI space”. I have some ideas, but I want to stay open to flex around different ideas. In 2023 my goal is to release a “respectable AI project”.

    What makes it respectable? I’ll know it when I see it. Something that I would respect if someone else did it.

    I’m thinking about the math-theorem-proving space; I’ll start off trying some stuff there.

    4. Spanish

    My goal is to learn enough Spanish to read Ficciones in Spanish. I bought the book on Kindle many years ago and realized my Spanish wasn’t good enough. I’ve been doing Duolingo for about a year, but it’s really just been a refresh of my high school Spanish, and I need to push harder to get it better.

    Why learn Spanish? I feel like there’s an intellectual value in learning a second language that’s hard to describe. Your primary language is the filter through which you see so much of the world. Isn’t it strange that you can load up a second one?

    I love learning new programming languages and I feel like I get a lot from that. I also love reading books. So maybe I will get something from a second language.

    I don’t think I should just start off plowing through the book, I should start with a harder push on Duolingo, at least get my verb tense knowledge solidified, maybe aim for better vocabulary too.

    5. Secret resolution

    I also have a secret resolution! But it’s secret.

    Now what?

    I’ll see how much I feel like giving updates. Last year I did a mid year one and that seemed just fine. The main value of the update was that I lost some energy to write blog posts and gained some energy to switch around the sort of astronomy project I was working on.

  • 2022 Review

    Last year I made some New Year’s resolutions. Let’s take a look at how they did.

    1. Calorie Counting

    I got weak at actually counting calories toward the end and skipped like half of December. But I did a lot better than I expected at losing weight. Somehow I am reluctant to make an explicit weight goal on here, but the bottom line is to get healthier and for getting healthier for an overweight guy, there is a very logical metric of losing weight. So let’s just get past that. I’ve been tracking my weight with the iOS health app for a while and per year my average has been:

    • 2016: 231.0
    • 2017: 227.4
    • 2018: 210.3
    • 2019: 213.4
    • 2020: 218.3
    • 2021: 218.0
    • 2022: 191.8

    A bit of an improvement after I left Facebook. But really this past year has been a huge improvement. The main danger is backsliding, which is a big danger since calorie-counting is so annoying. From here, I just need to “maintain”.

    2. Astronomy Publication

    Overall I missed this goal. I think the Green Bank work will end up in a paper, just not during 2022. I think seticore will end up as the core signal processing component for the MeerKAT pipeline, but probably just a small part of the VLA pipeline, and nothing is really functional here at end-of-year 2022, PR announcements notwithstanding.

    I’m glad I set this goal. I’m a little frustrated that I don’t really see an obvious path for improvement in retrospect. Maybe this is a sign that I should shift some of my mental energy elsewhere. I like this astronomy work, but it is often the sort of project that naturally has a certain amount of stuff to do, and after some point there are diminishing returns. I guess this is a result of working on things with a lot of other people.

    3. Exercise

    This is just a normal part of my routine now. I’m happy with it. I stalled in terms of how much weight I can lift, but I’ve been adding more rowing machine to my routine, which seems pretty good. All in all, success.

    4. Blogging

    Well, after being slightly behind at the end of H1, my blogging just totally collapsed. I lost the will to fight for this one. I like blogging, or at least I like the sort of reflecting on things that I do while blogging, but blogging ends up being something I can do with my most productive mental energy. I’m sitting down, ready to work, and I could fire into anything, and blogging is one of those things. But it’s never really the most important thing I want to do on a particular day. Or if it is, it’s because of some artificial thing. I don’t know.

    So, I missed this goal too, but really because I stopped wanting to do it, more than because I stopped feeling able to do it. Different from the astronomy publication one.

    5. Secret resolution?

    One thing I randomly started doing is Duolingo, at which I have approximately a year streak. I started it sort of in the spirit of resolutions but I didn’t make a real resolution for it. I feel good about that although I’m a little worried it’s too superficial, like it just teased some of my ancient Spanish learning back into my forebrain, rather than necessarily giving me enough to do anything.

    Looking Forward

    Resolutions are great. I’ll do another set for this year.

    The personal health stuff worked really well. The intellectual accomplishment stuff, not so well. But that’s partially because my personal health goals are like, “decent health”, and my intellectual accomplishment goals are like, “I need to push myself to excel”.

    It’s also because I have a more functional set of habits around things like reading books and coding. I just enjoy that and do it fairly regularly. I don’t really need or want resolutions to mess with it.

    Maybe I should have some separate set of things which is “the routine”, which is good, and I need to keep doing it, but I don’t need to make resolutions for it. I mean, I guess I have that? Should I write it down? I don’t know. I’ll think about it a bit.


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